Stop the Presses! Epic Changes to Cannabis Law March On

By Ava George Stewart

Last year, the ultimate question I asked was, “Will the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act be the pre-cursor to legalization of cannabis in Illinois?”

It appears that in the most populous county in the state of Illinois, Cook County, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” In April, the Cook County State’s Attorney issued a press release announcing a significant change to prosecutions throughout Cook County.

From the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office:

Under the new policy, the State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute most cases of misdemeanor cannabis possession and will divert Class 4 felony cannabis possession and other Class 4 controlled substance offenders to alternative programs, including a newly created drug deferred prosecution program. In addition, the State’s Attorney’s Office will lead the creation of a street-level diversion program for juveniles that will refer low-level juvenile drug offenders to community-based organizations for drug education and mentorship.

“The methods in which we are handling low level drug cases here in Cook County are simply not working. Under our current policies and practices, we continue to see the same individuals revolving in and out of our criminal justice system with no meaningful impact or outcome and at a significant cost to taxpayers,” Alvarez said.

Ironically, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act that became law on January 1, 2014, has not yet been implemented. That said, it will happen. It really is a matter of time. In early May, there was a public meeting held in Chicago by the advisory board to the Department of Public Health to include the treatment of additional diseases and disorders with medical cannabis.

The Advisory Board recommends the following be approved for treatment with cannabis:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Neuro-Behcet’s Autoimmune Disease
  • Migraine
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Chronic Post-Operative Pain
  • Anorexia Nervosa

Quick Facts:

• Oregon and Alaska will permit the sale of recreational marijuana in 2016. They will join Colorado and Washington. The majority of states, 27 and counting, have legal marijuana, medical cannabis programs, and/or decriminalization of marijuana possession.

• In Colorado, legal marijuana generated $700 million. $63 million in tax revenue was collected.

• The Illinois pilot program is still slated to expire in 2018.

• In 2014, 25% of the felony cases in Cook County were Class 4 felony drug possession cases.

Generally, laws concerning drugs in this country become more draconian with each passing year. It appears the haze is finally starting to lift, as we acknowledge that the significant costs of punitive drug enforcement are not the best investment to reduce drug use and address the associated societal burdens.

IMG_0627Ava George Stewart is a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Chicago. She is the Illinois Delegate for the National College for DUI Defense, serves on the DUI Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and is the Chair-Elect of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Committee. 

This article originally appeared in the WBAI’s Spring 2015 Newsletter.